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Donald Fagen: guitar tab and chords for The Nightfly, The Nightfly

The Nightfly - Donald Fagen

From the album "The Nightfly"
Transcribed by Chris Davis [crdavis (dot) music (at) gmail (dot) com]
and Howard Wright [hakwright (at) gmail (dot) com]

Chris' Notes:

What a song! This ranks high amongst other SD songs that sound harmonically reasonable, 
but are full of deceptive slash-chords and curveball voicings. The voicings, in particular, 
are tough to navigate on the guitar... fortunately, between the harmony instruments on 
the recording there is enough information to have a few different options for the trickier 
chords. I have indicated this where possible. In most cases, however, I have tried to 
retain the top notes of the voicing while keeping it playable on the guitar, something 
prevalent in Howard's transcribing philosophy. 

The verse harmony is dictated by the electric piano for the first three bars. 
It's a little tough to hear - in fact, I hadn't even noticed it until I sat down to 
transcribe this a few months ago! I'm pretty sure this is accurate, but any 
suggestions are welcome.

The riff at the end of each chorus phrase contains a lick that, if the bass notes are 
included, is challenging to execute, but if one omits the bass notes, it actually lies 
really nicely on the guitar. The riff is tabbed out for clarity.

Howard's notes

For a song that's strongly keyboard-driven, with more than it's fair share of rich Fagen 
harmonies, and with some relatively fast-moving changes, it's a pleasant surprise that 
this track can work well in a single-guitar arrangement. The transcription that Chris sent me
had already done most of the hard-work of figuring out chords and finding some great guitar-
friendly voicings. It was a real pleasure to play it through!

I've tweaked some chord shapes/names, and added some alternative voicings in places, but I don't
think I would have even considered tackling a challenging song like this, so a huge thanks to
Chris for sending me such a great transcription to work on.

The bulk of the chord changes sit pretty comfortably on the guitar, but as Chris notes, there 
are a few riffs and phrases that move more quickly and are a little more challenging on just 
one guitar. Having another instrument support the bass parts for these sections, so the guitar
can drop the bass notes to make it easier, might be the best solution.

As with many Fagen and Steely Dan songs, many of the shapes use muted strings. In most cases
you can use your fretting fingers to mute the strings, allowing you to strum the whole chord
with a pick, but in a few places (e.g. the more minimal E7 E7sus4 changes in the chorus) several
strings need to be muted. You'll need to use a different approach here (either finger picking
to play only the required strings, or if using a pick, strike the bass note separately and a 
little earlier than the other strings).

And what about those chord changes in the bridge section? Magnificent.


Am9 A/B Cmaj7 

Em7 Am/E Em7 Bm7/D Em/D Fmaj7

B7 Gmaj13 

C9 Am7 Daug(add9)


    Gm6/9      G6/9        Gmaj7      G6	
I'm Lester the Nightfly,  hello Baton Rouge

G13sus4          G9sus4    Am/E Em7 
       Won't you turn your radio  down

B7 Am6 Am7         Cmaj7          B7#9      Em7
       Respect the seven second delay we use

Dadd4  C  Am11  G

Bb/C  F  C/G  G  Daug(add9)

The riff used here in the verse (and at the end of the verse) is:


A slightly simplified version that works a little better on the guitar is:


       Gm6/9         G6/9       Gmaj7      G6
So you say there's a race    of men in the trees

G13sus4         G9sus4       Am/E Em7         
     You're for tough legislation          

               B7     Am6 Am7          Cmaj7     B7#9       Em7
thanks for calling          I wait all night for calls like these

Dadd4  C  Am11  G

Bb/C F C/G G


Am9      A/B    Cmaj7
   An independent station

Em7 Am/E Em7 Bm7/D  Em/D  Fmaj7
W             J      A      Z

      B7      Gmaj13
With jazz and conversation

C7         A/B               Em7   G/D
  From the foot of Mount Belzoni

       A/E  Em7   F#7               B7#9b13
Sweet mu - sic  tonight the night is mine

E7  E7sus4  A13   Am13
            Late line

Esus2/G#  Gmaj7
 'Til the sun, 'til the 

C6/9      Gmaj7   C6/9 Gmaj7     C6/9
Sun comes through            the skylight

A13b9    C/D 

D/E   Bm/A  C/D 

Am7  Daug(add9)

Verse 2

I've got plenty of java and Chesterfield Kings
But I feel like crying
I wish I had a heart of ice; a heart like ice

If you want your honey to look super swell,
You must spring for that little blue jar
Patton's kiss and tell - the kiss and tell

Chorus 2

Same as Chorus 1, with this variation on the ending:

A13b9  C/D

Am7  F#7b9


F#/B            F#7#9
  You'd never believe it

B13                       Emaj6/7
  But once there was a time

     D#7            Emaj6/7
When love was in my life

Emaj6/7  Bmaj7  A#m11  D#7#9

G#m9           G#9    G#9sus4            B6/F#      Amaj9
   I sometimes wonder      what happened to that flame?

    D#7                Emaj6/7 
The answer's still the same   

       G#m7  D#7#9
It was you,  you

G#/B  Fm7       Emaj6/7  Gmaj7/A
         It was you

D#m7    G#13b9  C#m9    E/F#  Eb/F
Tonight you're  still  on  my mind

Am7 Daug(add9)

Guitar solo (over verse)

Same chords as previous verses.

Chorus 3

Same as Chorus 1 but with more repetitions of C6/9 and Gmaj7 over the "sun comes through 
the skylight" line, and with different final chord. 
Given the synth effect on this last chord with all the notes bending upwards, it's hard to 
mimic on the guitar. The chord quality sounds like a 13b9, so try playing x05676.

Chord Shapes

All chord shapes used are listed below (including alternative shapes), broken down by section.
In some places, a chord is used several times in the section, but using different voicings; the
different shapes are included below.

For some chords, you have the option of playing a more compact 4-note chord (e.g. x6867x) or a
slightly wider 5-note chord (e.g. x68676). It's down to personal preference which way you go,
the suggestions here are mostly intended to give voicings that provide a smoother and stronger
set of chord transitions, but feel free to vary the shapes if you wish.

Intro (and first part of Chorus):

   Am9            A/B     Cmaj7
x 0 10 9 8 7    7x7655    x35453

You could also use 757655 (Bm9) for the A/B shape above.

 Em7        Am/E          Bm7/D       Em/D     Fmaj7
0xx787    0 x x 9 10 8    xx0475     xx0453    xx3555

B7        Gmaj13      C9       Am7      Daug(add9)
x2424x    3x445x    x32333    x0555x    x5435x

Other options for the Gmaj13 chord above are 3x4455,
or G6/9 xx5455, or the slightly darker-sounding xx5452

There are some slides (4ths) played on the guitar over the Gmaj13 and C9 chords but it's
difficult to manage these while holding down the rest of the chord, so best to ignore these
while playing solo.


Gm6/9     G6/9      Gmaj7      G6       G13sus4   G9sus4
xx5355    xx5455    xx5777    xx5757    3x3555    3x3535

You could leave out the top note from the last two shapes above to make them a little easier
to play. An alternative for the G13sus4 chord is x 10 10 10 10 0
There isn't a very good option from this shape to change to the G9sus4 so you can just skip
the change and hold the first shape for longer.

   Am/E              Em7              B7       Am6       Am7
0 x 14 14 13 x    0 x 12 12 12 x    x2x242    x0x575    x0x553

Cmaj7     B7#9        Em7      Dadd4       C 
x3545x    x2123x     0x000x    xx0773    x3x553

There's a hint of Cmaj7 in the last chord, so after Dadd4 you could play x3x453

 Am11       G
x0553x    3x543x

 Bb/C       F        C/G       G        Daug(add9)
x3x33x    xx321x    3x201x    3x000x    x5435x

As seen above in the transcription, the suggested way of playing this is fairly easy and helps 
retain the spirit of the riff. The trickiest part to pull off is the change to the C/G chord, 
but as in the suggested tab above, you can focus on the D and G strings for this change 
(hammering on from open D to E) to make it a little easier.
The final riff leaves out the Daug(add9) chord.

Chorus (2nd half, after "jazz and conversation")

  C7        A/B      Em7       G/D       A/E       Em7
x35353    x2x220    0xx433    xx0787    0xx655    0xx433

 F#7      B7#9b13     E7      E7sus4     A13       Am13
2x232x    x21233    0xx13x    0xx23x    x0567x    x0557x

Esus2/G#  Gmaj7      C6/9     A13b9      C/D
4x445x    3x443x    x32233    x05676    x5x553 

You can also use a G/C shape (e.g. x3543x or 8xx787) in place of the C6/9   

 D/E       Bm/A      C/D       Am7     Daug(add9)
x7777x    x0x432    x5x553    x0555x    x5435x

Second ending:
 Am7      F#7b9 
x0555x    xx4353


Bmaj7     F#7#9      B13      Emaj6/7    D#7      Emaj6/7  
7x887x    xx4355    7x789x    x7x644    x6564x    x7664x

The first chord of the bridge probably also has a C# in it, so you could also play 7x867x.
For the second Emaj6/7 (after "love was in my life"), the 2nd shape above gives a slightly tighter
sound, but you could repeat the first shape.

Emaj6/7   Bmaj7     A#m11     D#7#9
0x6644    x24342    6x664x    x6567x

 G#m9      G#9      G#9sus4   B6/F#     Amaj9
4x4446    4x4546    4x4646    x9x897    x06657

The B6/F# to Amaj9 sequence, in the keyboards, has D# F# G# B and C# E G# B voicings in the
right hand, but there's no way to play this on guitar along with the bass note changes, so
you have to drop a note from each chord.

D#7       Emaj6/7
x6868x    0x6644

An alternative for the Emaj6/7 that captures the high voicing from the rhythm guitar part
is 0 11 11 11 12 11

 G#m7     D#7#9      G#/B         Fm7         Emaj6/7   Gmaj7/A
4x444x    x6567x    7xx898    x 8 10 8 9 x    0x6644    x05432

 D#m7     G#13b9     C#m9      E/F#      Eb/F      Am7     Daug(add9)
x68676    4x4565    x42440    2x2100    xx3343    x0555x    x5435x

For a slightly simpler shape, you could play F/G# 4xx565 instead of G#13b9

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Last updated: July 2020